Random notes from Writing With Style

I kept meaning to blog some of the stuff we talked about at the Writing With Style workshop at the Banff Centre led by Robert J. Sawyer…and didn’t. But even though it’s been so long now I can’t really put them in context, here are the notes I took. Presumably, these were the things that really struck me at the time.

In no particular order:

Would a real person in real life do that? To say it’s SF is no excuse.


The most typical point of view is limited third person. Why? Because we want people to identify with our characters. We’ve found that it works best if my identity as the reader becomes the character’s identity, so that anything that happens to the character is essentially what happens to me as the reader…It’s one of the things that keeps novels interesting in this day of other entertainment options. It can make you somebody else.

The character’s thoughts become your thoughts. It all comes from the power of this one tool, the consistent point of view.

Third person lets us have our third person be heroic without bragging, so third person actually lets you make your character more heroic.

First person tells you up front that the person survived (unless it’s first-person present tense, but that’s pretty awkward).

Most short stories have one viewpoint character. For a novel, you may need multiple viewpoint characters.

If you want the ability to see your viewpoint character as other people see him or her, you need a second viewpoint.

It’s tricky to take someone who has been a viewpoint character and make him or her an actor in someone else’s viewpoint.

Another reason for limited third person: it adds suspense. If you can read everyone’s thoughts, you can’t have suspense. If you do it just when it’s convenient for the author, it’s a cheat.


Two reasons for scene changes: a discontinuity in place or a discontinuity in time.


SF is about choice; fantasy is often about destiny.


Keep your promises to the reader. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. The Principle of Abeyance means the reader trusts you to deliver, and is willing to wait for questions to be answered. If you don’t keep your promises, you’ve violated that trust.


Greatness comes from freshness.


Great books express a point of view. People love or hate Starship
Troopers because of its strong opinion.


Find the person who is most put out by your premise.


Don’t go back for an agent unless you get some personal response.


Major SF publishers from top to bottom:

Warner Aspect
Bantam Spectra
Del Rey


And finally, something that is probably true of all artistic endeavors, from writing to visual arts to acting:

You are entering a profession in which there is no correlation between how good you are and how much you will make.

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/2005/10/random-notes-from-writing-with-style/

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